Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Butternut Squash Risotto

Risotto is one of my favourite comfort foods. It's something about the slow, gentle cooking over a stove. The smooth, creamy texture and satisfying starchiness (I love rice!), as well as all the endless variations, make it difficult to resist.

I haven't cooked much (and have really been eating rather poorly) for the past two weeks. The other day, I stayed up until 5 a.m. grading exams. Serves me right for writing a 13 page final! But today, with my Statistics paper out of the way, and just one more exam to go, I decided to indulge my craving to try this recipe from Cook's Illustrated. It really wasn't difficult, especially since I skipped the step where I heat the chicken broth with the seeds and string of the squash.

It turned out a little darker than I'd expected. Somehow, the organic chicken broth I bought was rather dark in colour. It may not be photogenic, but oh, it tasted so good! The flavour of the squash was enhanced with a pinch of nutmeg, some sage, and a sprinkling of parmesan. Now, if only I had a bit of tiramisu for dessert.....

Monday, December 10, 2007

A stab at bread

About three weeks ago, I made my first stab at bread outside of pizza dough. It was also the first real bread I made that wasn't an inedible brick. And all the better that it was cinnamon swirl bread. It was so good, I made the recipe twice more.

The original recipe called for 8 cups of flour - something impossible to do in the average Hong Kong kitchen. Cutting it down to a manageable 2 or 3 cups required some tricky math and futzing around with the measurements: I need a little more water to proof the yeast, so a little less milk to balance it out? And I can't do 66.6% of an egg. Throw the whole egg in, and use a little more flour? I'm not really sure if I did the right thing, as the science of baking is a complete mystery to me. I also have little idea whether my substitution of ordinary plain flour for bread flour (the latter being expensive in Hong Kong), and vegetable oil for butter (trying to avoid saturated fats) made any real difference. The recipe also called for scalded milk. I don't know why this would be different from unboiled milk. Oh well, just do what it says.

But it did rise, it wasn't rock hard, and it tasted pretty good. The loaf just looks rather flat in the photo because my baking tin was too large. I knew a guy in college who routinely made bread without the benefit of a recipe. He just threw things together until they kneaded up roughly at the right consistency. It worked.

The first attempt was a bit thin on the filling. It said to just sprinkle a lot of cinnamon sugar and a few drops of water on the rolled-out dough and roll it up. I guess I didn't use enough.

The next time, I over-compensated by adding raisins, little chunks of apple, and apple sauce (which I have to make myself - you can't buy it here except in ridiculously tiny baby food jars), but there must have been too much moisture because the bread came out a bit doughy.

The third time, I eliminated the apple and apple products, used a lot more cinnamon sugar, and kept the raisins. And the imaginary Goldilocks looking over my shoulder, that picky picky girl, smiled in satisfaction.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Tis the Season!

Yes, I do know how to make more than food, although lately I've been worried that I've gotten rusty at doing other things. Our Final Buffet was this weekend, and although we're not totally done with pastry school yet, we won't be cooking nearly as much from now on. (I'm not putting the pictures up here, since there are too many, but here is the link to the album.) Even better, we don't have any more long homework assignments, woohoo!!! The first order of the day was to get ready for Christmas, and with that, I headed off to Target to buy the shortest length of tree lights that I could find - 12 feet for around $2.00. As for the tree, our apartment is tiny, so we had to find an accordingly tiny specimen. For all the apartment dwellers out there, you'll understand how hard it is to find a real tree that's under 4 feet tall. In past years we've made do with a tabletop balsam tree from LLBean that costs $80, but this year we got lucky. You'll never guess where I found this little guy......Whole Foods, for only $25! Whole Foods calls it a "tabletop" tree, too, but they must have a huge table in mind. Doesn't it look perfect our little corner here? Even better, this tree reminds me of the scrawny, lovable little shrub in "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

Aside from getting the tree set up, I managed to get started on some stocking stuffers for the holidays, too.
This duo is going to work hard at looking cute on someone's refrigerator this holiday. Here they are going for a practice run on our fridge.